Phoenix Rising FC's Solomon Asante and New Mexico United's Kevaughn Frater figure to take center stage when their sides clash on Saturday night at Isotopes Park. | Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC
After San Antonio FC missed out on an opportunity to improve its postseason chances on Wednesday night, Week 30 of the 2019 USL Championship campaign continues Friday to kick off another 17-game weekend slate full of postseason implications.
On Friday night, the Charleston Battery will look to build on last weekend’s stoppage-time victory over rival North Carolina FC and improve its chances of reaching the postseason when it visits the first-place New York Red Bulls II at MSU Soccer Park (7:30 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+).
Fifteen matches will follow on Saturday, with a pair of top-six clashes in the Eastern Conference taking center stage early in the evening when Louisville City FC puts its eight-game unbeaten run on the line against the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Slugger Field (7 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) while fifth-place Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC looks to improve upon its 556-minute shutout streak and make a case for the top spot in the conference when it hosts Indy Eleven at Highmark Stadium (7 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+).
The weekend will wrap up with a Western Conference clash on Sunday afternoon when expansion side Austin Bold FC tries to inch closer to securing a postseason berth on a trip to fellow playoff rival the Portland Timbers 2 (4 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+).
With plenty of storylines to keep track of across the Championship this weekend, here are a few games and players that I’ll be paying close attention to, as well as some bold predictions I expect to play out over the course of Week 30:
Saturday night's clash between Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and Indy Eleven could go a long way to determining which side sits on top of the Eastern Conference at the end of the regular season. | Photo courtesy Trevor Ruszkowski / Indy Eleven
After differing results in midweek, the battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference comes to a head on Saturday night in Pittsburgh when the Hounds host the Eleven at Highmark Stadium. Pittsburgh enters the contest just a point behind Indy after extending its shutout streak to 556 minutes in Tuesday’s 1-0 victory in Memphis and now controls its own destiny for a first-place finish after the Eleven suffered a shock defeat on Wednesday night at ATL UTD 2. A win for the Hounds would go a long way towards securing home-field advantage throughout the USL Championship Playoffs and Head Coach Bob Lilley’s side should be confident having posted a 9-1-2 record over its last 12 games and an unbeaten mark at home this season (9-0-6). The Eleven will certainly be motivated to produce a bounce-back performance after falling flat in two consecutive road contests and can retain the inside track to a first-place finish with a draw. Indy is plenty capable of that, having already recorded a 2-1 victory over Pittsburgh at Lucas Oil Stadium back on June 1.
Ottawa Fury FC’s two-win week gave the side a bit of breathing room in the standings as it enters the week seven points above the 11th-place Charleston Battery with five games to play. The Canadian side will look to inch even closer to its first trip to the USL Championship Playoffs this weekend when it visits a North Carolina side that has picked up just one point from its past five games and suffered losses over that stretch to 15th-place Loudoun United FC and the last-place Swope Park Rangers. After sitting in the top six for most of the season, NCFC is now likely destined for the play-in round and could wind up hitting the road for that contest if it doesn’t end this downward spiral soon. Head Coach Dave Sarachan’s side is 8-1-5 on its home turf this season, which should give the side a bit of confidence as it looks to avenge a 2-1 defeat to Fury FC back on May 12.
New Mexico United and Phoenix Rising FC were always going to share a rivalry because of their geographical proximity but the first two meetings between the two sides have only fueled the fire more. A thrilling 3-3 draw in which Rising FC battled back from three separate deficits kicked things off in league play back in March and United took the upper hand by knocking its neighbor out of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a penalty shootout victory in Phoenix after the teams had played to a 2-2 draw over 120 minutes. A third act with Rising FC heading to Albuquerque looking to avenge that defeat and the end of its record 20-game winning streak should be must-see TV.
Two teams fighting for their playoff lives collide on Saturday night at Dignity Health Sports Park when the LA Galaxy II host OKC Energy FC in a high stakes six-pointer. Energy FC enters the contest just a point out of the playoff places and two points behind Los Dos, but has plenty of work to do as the side has just four games remaining in the regular season. With the three teams directly above the playoff line ahead of OKC having at least a game in hand on Steve Cooke’s side, this game against a playoff rival is essentially a must win. The Galaxy II have a little bit more breathing room after San Antonio FC’s defeat on Wednesday night, but will want to keep the teams behind it at arm’s length with a result here before embarking on a three-game road trip.
After Wednesday night’s disappointing 4-3 defeat in Tulsa, San Antonio FC has some work to do if it wants to avoid missing out on the USL Championship Playoffs for a second straight season. SAFC sits just a point behind 10th-place El Paso Locomotive FC but has played two more games than the expansion side and will need points from this weekend’s contest with second-place Fresno FC to improve upon its current 53-percent chance of reaching the postseason, per fivethirtyeight.com. The good news for Head Coach Darren Powell’s side is it will be returning to Toyota Field, where it has recorded 8 of its 10 wins this season. SAFC is undoubtedly a different outfit on its home turf and could be catching Fresno at a good time as the Foxes try to get back up after knocking off Phoenix Rising FC last weekend and clinching a playoff berth. I’ll go out on a limb and say San Antonio takes all three points.
The Timbers 2 enter the weekend in 12th place in the Western Conference but should like their odds of climbing back into the playoff positions this weekend when Austin Bold FC visits Providence Park. Austin has struggled away from Bold Stadium over the course of its inaugural season (2-7-4) and Portland will be looking to take advantage of that before a tough matchup with Phoenix Rising FC next weekend. I think T2 continues to pour in the goals after its 6-3 victory over Tacoma Defiance last weekend and climbs up the standings thanks to defeats for expansion sides New Mexico and El Paso.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC is hoping to have something to celebrate when it welcomes Las Vegas Lights FC to Weidner Field on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Las Vegas Lights FC enters the weekend with just a three-percent chance of reaching the postseason according to fivethirtyeight.com and I don’t see those odds improving this weekend as Eric Wynalda’s side faces a must-win contest in Colorado Springs. The Switchbacks may already be out of playoff contention but have suffered a ton of bad luck over the course of the campaign and have been competitive against playoff contenders in recent weeks. Add in the fact that players will now be looking to impress incoming Head Coach Alan Koch, who won’t take over sideline duties just yet, and I think there’s enough motivation to take points from a Las Vegas side that has accumulated just seven points (1-10-4) outside of Sin City.
After dropping its first match in four-and-a-half months and travelling to a New Mexico side with revenge and Four Corners Cup aspirations on its mind, I can’t see a situation where Phoenix Rising FC doesn’t bounce back with a victory at Isotopes Park on Saturday night. That said, I’m going to back winger Junior Flemmings, who netted a penalty in the Open Cup defeat, to find the back of the net for his 15th goal of the campaign. If he does so, the Jamaican would join Solomon Asante and Adam Jahn as the first trio of teammates to score 15 goals apiece in a single season in league history.
Matsoso has found his shooting boots recently as the midfielder recorded half of Louisville’s six goals over its two most-recent wins against Hartford Athletic and the New York Red Bulls II. The Lesotho international had failed to find the back of the net in his first 15 appearances of the season, making this offensive outburst a welcome surprise. Even if he can’t keep it going this weekend against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, look for Matsoso to make his mark in the middle of the park.
Reno 1868 FC's Corey Hertzog will look to add to his 60 regular-season goals in the Championship when his side hosts Real Monarchs SLC on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC
With a brace in a 3-1 victory at New Mexico United last weekend, Hertzog reached 60 career regular-season goals in the Championship and reached the 15-goal plateau for the first time. The forward has netted three times over Reno’s three-game winning streak and is certainly a candidate to do so again on Saturday when 1868 FC hosts Real Monarchs SLC at Greater Nevada Field.
After scoring 12 goals and adding 15 assists over the 2018 regular season, this campaign has been a relatively quiet one for Quinn who has managed seven goals and five assists to this point. The midfield playmaker has stepped his game up over Orange County’s six-game winning streak however, recording two goals and two assists as well as completing a team-high 73 passes in the final third of the field. Expect him to try to spark OCSC’s attack once again on Saturday against Rio Grande Valley FC.
Nashville has scored just one goal over its past three games, with that tally coming courtesy of an own goal from Birmingham Legion FC defender Akeem Ward. That isn’t exactly ideal for a side that’s trying to find its best level ahead of the postseason. While Rios only started the most recent of those three contests – a scoreless home draw with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – I’d expect Nashville to look toward its leading scorer for a boost on its trip to Segra Field to face Loudoun United FC.
Tag(s): Game Previews Nashville SC Weekend Previews San Antonio FC CO Spring Switchbacks LA Galaxy II OKC Energy FC Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC Portland Timbers 2 Reno 1868 FC Louisville City FC Ottawa Fury FC Pittsburgh Riverhounds Corey Hertzog Aodhan Quinn Junior Flemmings Fresno FC Las Vegas Lights FC North Carolina FC Indy Eleven Daniel Ríos New Mexico United Napo Matsoso